Player of the Week
Raiquan Gray, PF/C, #11 Florida State Seminoles
There will always be players who come in and put up better stats than Gray every single week, but his consistency and impact is greater than anyone in the conference despite the low statistical numbers. Gray has now scored in double figures more times in the past nine games than he did in the first 73 games of his career. On Wednesday night against Miami, Gray totaled 12 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 blocks.
The offensive and defensive impact and energy he brings every night is simply unmatched. Gray is powerful, crafty, a relentless ball of energy, and above all else, irreplaceable on a ferocious Seminoles roster. If there is one player on this deep Florida State team who they cannot afford to lose in the ACC or NCAA Tournament, there is no doubt in my mind that it would be Raiquan Gray. Leonard Hamilton’s swiss army knife is a lot better at a lot of different things than a lot of different people all over the country.
Duke Blue Devils
Ever since Jalen Johnson opted out of the season last week, the Blue Devils have been on a tear and it has them back in the hunt for the NCAA Tournament. They have won four in a row including a huge victory over #7 Virginia to right the ship and get back on track. I am not a firm believer that a team can get better by losing talent, but the results that the Blue Devils have put together in Johnson’s absence speak for themselves.
The success they’ve had is in large part due to role players such as Mark Williams and DJ Steward stepping up as well as the solid consistency of star sophomore Matthew Hurt. Hurt has scored 22 or more points in three of the last four games while Steward has been in double figures in nine of the last ten. The Blue Devils still control their own destiny and if they can continue to get performances like these out of Steward and Hurt, there could be plenty of teams hoping to avoid Coach K’s men on Selection Sunday.
Moses Wright and Michael Devoe, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Another team hitting their stride and getting back into the bubble race is Josh Pastner’s Yellow Jackets. They are in the currently on a three game winning streak and their familiar faces are responsible. Wright and Devoe each put on a show this past week – Devoe with 29 points on 7-11 from 3-PT range against Miami and Wright with 26 points and 10 rebounds in a huge upset at #16 Virginia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets are now 12-8 and added a huge Quad 1 win to their resume in Blacksburg. They will face off against Syracuse and Duke in the coming days and with likely only one spot in the NCAA Tournament available between these three teams, their big three of Wright, Devoe, and Jose Alvarado will have to carry them to victories to have a chance to dance in March Madness.
Nate Laszewski, PF/C, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish looked to be finding their identity after four wins in five games, but a two-game skid on the road killed their momentum and dropped them to 6-9 in conference play and 9-12 overall. Louisville held them to just 57 points and this was mostly due to the struggles of Laszewski. The 6’10 junior broke out in a big way this season for the Irish and his ability to stretch the floor and dominate the glass is a huge reason why. However, against the Cardinals, Laszewski was held to 2 points on 0-8 shooting (0-6 from distance) and just four rebounds. The versatile and athletic Cardinals roster threw him completely off his game and it was easily the worst performance from Notre Dame’s breakout big man.
#15 Virginia Cavaliers
A short month ago, the Cavaliers were undefeated in the ACC and had no real imminent threats to challenge them for the regular season title. Fast forward a month and the Cavs are 4-4 in their last 8 and are in the midst of a brutal three-game losing streak. The first two losses on the road against Florida State and Duke were forgivable, but a seven-point home loss to the NC State Wolfpack is far from it. The lack of depth is extremely troublesome, and it spells trouble for Tony Bennett’s squad.
Kihei Clark was forced to take 22 shots in his last two games and despite Sam Hauser and Jay Huff playing above their averages, this high volume for Clark is bringing the team down. Teams are daring the 5’9 junior to beat them offensively and it is working over the past month. The lack of production from Reece Beekman, a 17-game starter, is also not helping a Virginia team who has some real problems in the backcourt. The stellar frontcourt of Hauser, Huff, and Trey Murphy rivals any other team in the nation, but if the Cavs cannot get productive backcourt play, they will only continue to tumble down the ACC standings.
Top 5 Players I Trust in March Madness
5. Garrison Brooks
Brooks has had his struggles this season, but few are more battle tested and more clutch than the 6’10 senior. Brooks has been a part of a variety of teams in Chapel Hill. A team that did not even make the NCAA Tournament (2019-20), a team that made the Tournament but flamed out early (2017-18), and a team that made a deep run into the tournament but could not finish the job (2018-19). He has all of the experience in the world and is simply a big game player. If I am drawing up a post-up or pick and roll with every ACC player available to me, I am confidently including Garrison Brooks in that play.
4. Scottie Barnes
A common theme with the players on this list is experience. The one exception is Scottie Barnes. He is only a 19-year old freshman, but he has already proven his worth in late game situations. A last second layup against Indiana propelled the Seminoles to a victory in just his second collegiate game and another last second layup against Wake Forest forced overtime where Barnes sealed the deal with free throws and a dunk to put the game out of reach. He has already seen the biggest moments and I would put my season on the line with the true freshman at the point.
3. Carlik Jones
Jones is an interesting player here because of how much time he spent in his career at an under the radar school like Radford where the moments were not quite as big. However, in his young Louisville career, Jones has already stepped up and is not afraid to put the game in his own hands. As the primary scorer for three years of his career, Jones is used to being called upon and I have no problem doing the same if I need a bucket to advance on the biggest stage of college basketball.
2. MJ Walker
Walker is another Seminole who I would bet my season on if I need a last-second basket. After reaching the second weekend in his first two seasons in Tallahassee, Walker led the Seminoles to a regular season title as a junior before his season was cut short. Now, he has them in pole position to win another and compete for a national championship once again. Walker can create for himself and also spot up from anywhere to knock down any shot that is necessary. He is a three-level scorer who can hit a game-winner from anywhere on the court and his experience sets him over the top of anyone except one in the ACC.
1. Jose Alvarado
That one player I trust more than MJ Walker is Jose Alvarado. Anyone who is able to watch the Yellow Jackets play is well aware of Alvarado and all of the ways he carries his team. The leadership, energy, and skill he possesses is something that is rarely seen for four years in college basketball. He has averaged at least 12 points in every season he played for the Yellow Jackets and he just has that intangible it-factor that any coach would love to have. I truly believe Alvarado is one of the most underrated players in all of college basketball and if there was one guy in the ACC I would choose to go win a national championship down by one in the final seconds, I’m heading straight for Alvarado.